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A once-thriving country club near major interstate highways in Chicago was set to be the new home of an 800,000-square-foot distribution and warehouse facility. Now it is at the center of a heated legal battle involving a part of the city critical to trucking.
For years, Calumet Country Club, near I-80 and I-294, was a community centerpiece in Homewood, Ill. Its 120-year-old golf course, designed by legendary architect Donald Ross, once hosted Professional Golf Association tournaments such as the Western Open, which was the biggest tournament in the Midwest.
But, in recent years, the course fell on hard financial times, and its owners owed $500,000 in back taxes, Village of Homewood officials and the developer confirmed to TT.
Calumet Country Club via Facebook
Selling appeared to be the best option. A little more than two years ago Scottsdale, Ariz.-based developer Diversified Partners bought the 127-acre Illinois property for $3.3 million with plans to build warehouses and a logistics center, the village and developer said.
But there was a snag.
Neighborhood residents formed a committee to oppose the plan. South Suburbs for Greenspace Over Concrete said the redevelopment will increase air pollution and clog roads.
Lawsuits and tense meetings with city officials followed. Also, an official with the Village of Homewood resigned under fire. She had made critical remarks about the neighborhood committee at a meeting, speaking into a microphone she thought was off.
The battle over the golf course also comes as overall trends for the sport decline. The National Golf Foundation said 2,400 courses have closed since 2005, and the sport has lost 4.7 million players in that time period. (Golf is enjoying a rebound during the coronavirus pandemic. The Internet Golf Database shows rounds played increased by 14% in 2020.)
The battle over the Calumet Country Club course is taking place as cities expand and developers eye valuable land to keep up with the surging demand in e-commerce — now more than 20% of the total U.S. economy.
Amazon.com Inc. is building a $350 million distribution center in Clay, N.Y., on the site of a golf course. It also recently announced plans for a $200 million facility on a golf course in Alcoa, Tenn. And UPS Inc . is planning a 1 million-square-foot warehouse in Philadelphia on a course, and in Portland, Ore., a closed country club is being turned into a logistics center by Prologis Inc.
Property broker Keith Cubba specializes in the sale of golf courses with Colliers Golf Course Advisory Services in Las Vegas. He said if the course can be redeveloped, it’s worth a lot more, even if it’s a successful course.
“There is no more land that you can buy in large parcels,” Cubba told Transport Topics. “But the transition from a golf course to a warehouse or truck depot can be challenging. It doesn’t stop people in the neighborhood from protesting because they fear their property values will go down.”
Illinois Trucking Association President Matt Hart points out Chicago has a 170-year history as a central transportation hub, and this location is perfect as a logistics center.
“Areas south of Chicago, especially on the I-80 corridor — those are hot spots for freight,” he said. “The Chicagoland area is one of the largest inland ports in the nation, and Chicago is so important in the national supply chain.”
On March 9, opponents of the redevelopment won a victory when the Homewood Village board rejected four ordinances that would have rezoned the property and granted a special use permit allowing the company to begin.
Now the case is headed to Cook County Court. A judge will decide if the developer can enforce an agreement the developer had with the Village that would have allowed the golf course to essentially de-annex from Homewood and potentially be annexed by two nearby municipalities or Cook County.
“Our Village attorney has instructed me not to comment,” Mayor Richard Hofeld told TT.
Diversified Partner CEO Walter Brown believes his company will win.
“We have a settlement agreement in place: Either they approve our plan, or the land is disconnected from the city,” Brown said. “We have multiple options. It’s not going to be a golf course. It’s going to happen.”
Brown said the development will bring 800 to 1,000 jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue to the area, including erasing the club’s tax debt. “This is metropolitan Chicago, and this is the best use for the property.”
But a lawyer for the community group said the fight is just starting, and he believes the Village’s agreement with the developer is illegal. “None of us have any issues with truck terminals, but this is a zoning nightmare,” attorney Patrick Keating told TT. “Even if the development goes to another community, we’ll fight this.”
Real estate attorney Bill Lewis, a partner with law firm Barnes & Thornburg LLP and not associated with this case, said as consumers demand faster delivery of products because of e-commerce, large parcels of land — even if they are a historic golf course — will be more valuable.
“Golf courses are easy to clean and faster to build on,” Lewis said, “if you can get the zoning and regulatory approval.”
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